We met Yoko Ono at dinner one evening many years ago in New York. We offered her a lift home, and she invited us up to the apartment in the Dakota. Nick reverently played John Lennon’s piano, while I accompanied Yoko to the kitchen to make cocoa for everyone. She’d just had one of those glass fronted refrigerators installed in the kitchen, and spoke of how she spent a great deal of her days “art directing” the contents, and would then sit there admiring them for a bit, before starting the process all over again.
I’m afraid this is one of my “do as I say, not as I do” posts, since I am in dire need of organizing my own cupboards at the moment. I can blame it all on my busy schedule, or whinge and moan that I work in the kitchen all day, so I don’t want to spend my down time in there too, but the truth of the matter is a well organized kitchen will shave kitchen duty time for everyone, and help ensure the food you make is it’s very best. I can also adjust my “tude,” and look at it creatively like Yoko to make it more enjoyable.
Sure you could assign the chore to your cleaner, better half, child, or a roommate depending on your circumstances, but this is one task I recommend doing yourself. You should know exactly where your potential ingredients, pots, pans, and containers are. That way you know what you’ll need to add to your grocery list, and be able to grab what you need quickly when you are in the flow of cooking multiple meals at once with the Personal Chef Approach™
I start by making a date with myself to get this done. That’s right, schedule the time by putting it on your calendar, and making it a priority. Okay, so maybe you move that date a couple times due to more pressing matters, but seeing it there in writing somehow makes it harder to ignore. Of course you could do your kitchen spring clean all in one morning or afternoon, but since my time really is at a premium at the moment, I have another system of breaking it down into 3 week by week stages. It’s not quite so overwhelming that way, and anyone can find one hour a week!
I like to start with the most perishable foods first, which means the refrigerator and freezer, so we’ll cover that in just a few steps this week, and start work on cupboards next week. I make sure to go through and clean my refrigerator at least once a week, so repeat that part of this step with the subsequent weeks, and make it a habit.
1). One very important step of the Personal Chef Approach™ (PCA™) is labeling your food before storing. I do this for clients with the date it’s cooked, plus a date it should either be eaten or frozen by. My general rule of thumb is seafood should be eaten or frozen within the first 48 hours, and I recommend everything else is frozen within 72 hours, but can be eaten up to 4-5 days after it was cooked (the sooner you freeze cooked and cooled food, the better the integrity of the meal will hold). Start with tossing out any uneaten meals that are past that freeze by date, and anything past it’s “use by” date, smelling, or looking distinctly undesirable – no one likes a smelly fridge, and I’d rather be safe than sorry when it comes to food borne illnesses! Then thoroughly clean and disinfect any spills for the same reasons.
3). Before replacing all of your containers and bottles of condiments, quickly check that they are not out of date, and toss the ones that are. I like to keep most of these on the door to reserve room for my PCA™ meals on the shelves.
4). Know where and why you organize various food products:
- Raw meats should go in the bottom of the fridge, usually there is a drawer for this, because you do not want bacteria leaking from your chicken into the strawberries your going to eat raw. Some foods have got to be cooked to kill the bacteria growing on them, rinsing alone will not do the trick.
- The larger, low humidity drawer above that is where you should store your fruits and vegetables that emit gases (ie, apples, pears, peppers etc.) that cause them to ripen and eventually spoil. The low humidity setting will leave a window open so those gasses can escape to help prolong their freshness. The high humidity crisper drawer should be where you store anything that will wilt (i.e.. spinach, lettuce, basil etc.), because water vapor is held in with the window closed, and keeps them fresher and crisper longer.
- Now store all your prepared food in their containers on the shelves above, and any liquids (ie. milk, cream, buttermilk etc.) that require more height on the top shelf.
5). Contrary to popular belief, freezing food does not preserve it forever. Ideally, I recommend clearing through your freezer monthly, but in reality I do it every three months, being careful to check the date I froze things as I pull them out for use. Also, be sure to store your raw foods in the bottom part, and cooked foods above to avoid cross-contamination from any leakage.
You will want to clean out both your refrigerator and freezer as rapidly as possible, keeping the doors shut to avoid losing the frigid temperatures. Unless you have a Sub Zero (which are much more expensive, because they have separate generators for the fridge and freezer), leaving the door open to the refrigerator for a prolonged period will heat up the freezer too. Thawing food slightly and refreezing can cause freezer burn, and compromise both the flavor and texture of stored food.
What state is your kitchen in, and what systems do you like to use to keep them organized?
* I think of Yoko and giggle every time I start my spring cleaning. I originally wrote this post two years ago, but I am taking a much needed summer break this year, and just ran a few new posts about stocking your pantry, and your fridge, I think it is a good time to review this post too.